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Bursting the Muslim bubble

Published in Malay Mail Online

Malaysian Muslims in general tend to live in bubbles.

Due to their dietary requirements, they isolate themselves in a bubble so unnecessarily strict and complex that it is now a burgeoning industry of its own.

They need to live with constant reminders to pray, and daily break periods to fulfil those prayers.

They require to be judged on certain issues with laws of their own, with a separate legal system with separate judges and separate courts.

Sometimes, these bubbles are even carried overseas together with them, whenever they travel abroad.

Students tend to stick together to preserve the bubble, to protect them from the wicked world outside that wishes to entice them away.

When travelling in tours, they find it easier to stay in the bubble and repeat their daily routine instead of directly participating in different cultures.

At best, keeping themselves in these bubbles polarises non-Muslims as outcasts, and always as “the others.” At worst, by retreating further into their own shells, Muslims leave non-Muslims increasingly uncaring about their affairs, with both having fewer and fewer things in common.

Bigger problems, however, will inadvertently arise when Muslims try to expand these bubbles everywhere, and make others live inside these boundaries they have created for themselves.

Take the example of the do’s and dont’s of entertainment according to federal Islamic authorities Jakim, which is already in the second edition this year. If you think it only applies to Muslims, then you are far too hopeful.

We recognise that some Muslims have different attitudes towards entertainment. But even then, such an attitude is hardly shared among all Muslims in the country.

If that is the case, then why is Jakim being given the authority to draw umbrella guidelines for the industry, just based on the moral outlook of several clerics who sit in the fatwa committee?

The guidelines came only in one flavour: Islamic. The crowd must be segregated according to gender. Jokes must not lead to “excessive laughter.” Song lyrics must contain elements of “goodness and pure values.” Music should “motivate positive atmosphere.”

It was clearly a matter of the clergy class poking their nose into something it is essentially clueless about, and has no business regulating.

Under fire, Jakim then clarified that the guidelines were exactly that: guidelines. But that was the simple fact of the matter: Islamic authorities just cannot enforce those restrictions.

But Jakim’s defensive reply rang too hollow, when the hawkish Islamic authorities are infamous for overstepping their boundaries with zealotry, in more ways than one.

We know the drill all too well. As much as as Jakim wants to hide it, the guidelines themselves specified that any entertainment event must be referred to the authorities for guidance.

Especially after the furore involving a K-pop mini event, event organisers are just prey waiting to be wolfed down the moment they as much as sneeze in the wrong key.

If Jakim says the guidelines are not obligatory, then we must keep them to their words, and never back down.

After all, are fatwas not supposed to be nothing more than learned opinions? Instead, that is not how it is in Malaysia. As the bubble grows, what is right now is at the mercy and whims of the Muslim community.

Which brings us to the issue of the church in Taman Medan, that was forced to remove the cross from its facade by no more than an angry bunch of Malay-Muslims.

Under public criticism and mockery, Malay supremacists quickly jumped on the news that the church was deemed illegal by the local council.

Almost too conveniently, they quickly forgot the fact that the initial protest had nothing to do with legality, but laughably a stark fear that such public display of the Christian cross may affect the faith of the Muslim community.

The Malay-Muslim community in the area did not even try to hide that fact, with an interview by Malay Mail Online this week showing them admitting that they were genuinely afraid that Christianity might appeal to the locals, and how the cross was “provocative.”

Even after it was advised by state lawmakers to replace the cross, the church did not do so. The facade had stayed bare.

But this fear and cowardice is only too common. Two other houses of worship in the same area, another church and a Hindu temple, pride themselves on being discreet so as to not “offend” the Muslim locals.

Were they to blame? After all in 2013, Islamists Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) complained that a RM10 million temple renovation jeopardised Malaysia’s “Islamic image.” Earlier this year, a Muslim consumers’ group complained of a picture of Batu Caves on mineral water bottles.

There is a reason why churches are being driven away to shoplots. Because when it becomes a free-standing structure, it may face even bigger protests from Muslims just for being “too huge.” Not to mention the possible hurdles it faces to get built in the first place.

Some Islamists just want to see religions other than Islam being reduced to the domain of homes.

Like Brunei, will we see public celebrations of Christmas and Chinese New Year disappear from the public space? Already, there are complaints that shopping malls are putting too much money and effort into grand celebrations of non-Muslim festivities.

While Islam might be the religion of the federation, does it give absolute impunity for Muslims to carelessly expand their bubbles at the cost of others? We should not let this illusion cow us. It falls on us to prick those bubbles.

Published inMMO column
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